This talented Chicago-based artist and a freelance photographer amazed us with her work from the very start. Clarissa Bonet is inspired by the structures of the city, their impact on the body and she enjoys exploring aspects of the urban space in different contexts. In this interview, Bonet explains why time is the number one challenge in her career and reveals what's a day like in her life when she is not busy working.
Hey Clarissa! Welcome to Lomography Magazine! What's the latest project you've been working on? What sparks your inspiration at the moment?
Hi! Thanks for having me. Currently, I’m working on two bodies of work, City Space, and Stray Light, which are two long-term projects of mine. The first, City Space, deals with the horizontal daytime experience of the surface of the city. The latter, Stray Light, speaks about the nocturnal urban landscape. Lately, I’ve been fascinated with the surface and the structure of the town. These ideas are already in my work, but I continue to expand upon them with the newer images.
How did you get into photography? When did you take your very first photograph?
I don’t remember when I took my first photograph, but I do remember carrying a disposable film camera in my backpack throughout grade school. I took pictures of my friends during or after school, nothing exciting.
It wasn’t until I took a photography class in high school that I was exposed to photography as an art form. Ever since then, and I think I was about 16, I’ve been working with the medium of photography. I was fortunate to be exposed to photography and art at a young age, and so knew what I wanted to do with my life early on.
Your work has been featured on CNN Photos, Chicago Magazine, Juxtapoz, and many other famous online and print publications. When did photography stop being a hobby and became a full-time job for you?
In grad school, a professor told me if I wanted to succeed as a maker I’d need to treat photography as a job; I’d need to make room for it in my life. Since graduating in 2012, I’ve been following his advice. In school, studying and doing work is your job. You graduate and you are on your own. It’s easy to let life take over, and it’s entirely up to you to push yourself, to organize your life to make room for your practice.
You have a unique photographic style. How would you describe it?
My style is graphic, minimal, and generally with a deep depth of field. I have three degrees in photography, and over the years learned the “rules” of photography. Once you understand the tools at your disposal, you can deliberately break them. For instance, my favorite time to photograph is in the harshest light, which is the opposite of what’s taught in school.
Which photographers influence your work and inspire you to create?
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the structures of the city, their impact on the body and their materiality/facades. In thinking about facades, I’ve been pondering how to represent these structures in my work. When obsessed with an idea, I often gravitate to artists who make work referencing that concept.
Recently, I discovered the work of painter Daniel Rich. His paintings are sourced from photographs, so they have a photographic quality to them. I’m fascinated with the way he represents the built environment in his paintings. I’ve also been looking at the work of Mona Breede once again, thinking of the body about space and her process of construction.
What are some of the most significant challenges you have faced doing this job?
Time. Time is a scarce resource and, perpetually, I want more! My work takes ages to produce, although the images may not appear that way, which is intentional. But to get them to look effortless, it takes many hours of planning, research, and execution. If I can make 10-12 images in a year, then it was a productive year. That being said, my process can make me feel like I’m moving in slow motion. Sometimes I just need to remind myself that it’s ok to be slow—that’s what the work requires.
When you are out there shooting, do you have everything planned out from the start or do you tend to rely on your instincts?
It’s a little bit of both. For all my shoots, I have nearly everything planned. I know what the light is supposed to do at the time we’ll be shooting—if the weather cooperates; I choose the clothing and props that go into each image, and I have an idea of what I want the image to look like. I even sketch it in my sketchbook, although I can’t draw.
When shooting, I start with my original idea, then do variations on the original. When I feel right about it, I’ll try something different. Sometimes, it’s the unexpected element or framing that makes the best the best image.
In your opinion, how important is social media today for artists? How do you connect with your audience?
I’m not a huge fan of social media because I’m a private person, but I do have Instagram and Facebook accounts, which I keep professional for the most part. Social media is a valuable space to connect with people, so I use it to share upcoming exhibitions, talks, and new work.
What's a day like in the life of Clarissa Bonet? What do you enjoy doing besides taking beautiful shots?
As an artist and freelance photographer, I could be researching and planning my next shoot, editing new work or images for clients, working on professional practice stuff, or shooting for one of my projects. I’m always working, but every day is different, so it doesn’t feel as though I work that much.
There is no typical day, but I can say that all days start off with a pot of coffee. Besides taking photographs, I enjoy traveling across the country with my husband. We have a VW camper van, and anytime we have free time, which is never often enough, we take it on the road.
Do you have any exciting projects you would like to share with us?
Earlier this year I was awarded an Individual Artist Grant from the City of Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) and will have an upcoming exhibition called Urban Constructs as a result of a grant at Northeastern Illinois University Gallery. For the show, I’ve put both my City Space and Stray Light projects in conversation with one another, to speak to the shift in perception of the urban space from day to night. Here are the details for the show.:
Northeastern Illinois University Fine Arts Gallery
5500 North St.Louis Ave., Chicago, IL 60625
October 11th - November 17th
Reception: Friday, October 20th, 6-9 pm
Artist Talk: Wednesday, October 25th, 12 pm
This project is partially supported by an Individual Artist Program Grant from the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs & Special Events, as well as a grant from the Illinois Arts Council Agency, a state agency through federal funds provided by the National Endowment for the Arts.